There’s a difference between having a burger at a fast-casual restaurant and having one at a “nice” restaurant. At a casual place, the burgers are expected to be good, but at finer establishments, that’s not enough. To stand proudly alongside other entrées, the finest restaurant burgers must be experiences unto themselves.
The search for Houston’s best restaurant burgers started with a simple question: Which are worthy of having a glass of red wine alongside? As the quest expanded, we discovered that sometimes other drinks were equally appropriate, but that was the starting point. Here are ten full-service burgers worthy of silverware and a white tablecloth.
10. Bramble, 2231 South Voss
Updated 8/1/2016, 6:30 a.m.: RIP to Bramble's excellent burger, pictured above. The restaurant closed on July 29, 2016. Read on for nine other exquisite burgers that are still available.
Of all the burgers on our list, Bramble’s is most defined by its garden-fresh vegetables. Spry arugula is strikingly accented by Houston-made Call Me Gourmet’s horseradish mustard sauce. Because the condiments and vegetables are so enticing, this is the one burger on the list where a white wine wouldn’t be entirely inappropriate, although we ultimately decided we did slightly prefer a red wine to enhance the meat. The burger is served with a generous pile of housemade potato chips. $14
9. Bernadine’s, 1801-B North Shepherd
There’s one truism in this list, and that is that the fancy burger game is strong at most of the Treadsack restaurants. (Related: Compared to any other area in Houston, The Heights has the highest density of exquisite restaurant burgers.) Each reflects the overall restaurant concept, too. Bernadine’s is focused on the humble roots of Gulf Coast cuisine, and its burger is a nod to the “home burgers” many of us — including chef Graham Laborde — were served as kids. The patty is round and the bread is thick squares of Texas toast moistened with a generous slather of mayonnaise. Another homey touch is the sweet-tart bread-and-butter pickles. The burger is finished off with grilled onion, lettuce and tomato and served with thin, elegant fries. $14
8. Vic & Anthony’s, 1510 Texas
Vic & Anthony’s is now open for lunch every weekday, not just on Fridays. That means that its outstanding burgers are now available more often in the main dining room. (The burgers have long been available in the bar as well as on Fridays at lunchtime.) The Vic Burger sports prime ground beef, housemade bacon and both American and cheddar cheese. It’s $17 and fries come on the side. Blue cheese lovers will want to go for The Anthony instead for a dollar more.
7. Down House, 1801 Yale
Down House’s kimchi burger is a longstanding favorite that would be just as welcome at breakfast as at lunch or dinner, thanks in part to being topped with a fried egg. A duck egg can be substituted for only a dollar extra. There’s balancing salt and tang from housemade kimchi, and the Slow Dough challah bun is delightfully tender. The burger ends up becoming a wonderful mess that will send diners reaching for a fork and knife. The french fries — handy for soaking up juicy goodness — are some of the best in town. Choose a good IPA to go with this one. $13.
6. Etoile Cuisine et Bar, 1101-11 Uptown Park
One of the best ways to spend an early evening in Houston is at the bar of chef Philippe Verpiand’s French restaurant in Uptown Park near the Galleria. Bar manager Kimberly Paul is always coming up with new cocktails, so grab whatever interesting seasonal drink she’s created lately. The “social hour” between 4:30 and 6:30 p.m. is one of the more popular in town, so get there early enough to snag a bar seat. Once there, dig into Etoile's very fine burger that features a patty made with in-house ground beef. Served on brioche, it’s topped with roasted tomato and Swiss cheese that melts beautifully over the patty. It’s $12 during happy hour, which is quite a bargain, but even at lunch it’s only $14. There’s a variant at brunch topped with bacon and an over-easy egg for $15.
5. Triniti, 2815 South Shepherd
As at Etoile, burgers are so beloved at Triniti that there are variations for lunch, dinner and brunch. We tried the lunch burger, and it is the best imaginable classic cheeseburger. The patty is a blend of 75 percent sirloin and 25-percent chuck and brisket. It drips a lot of meat juices and is topped with plenty of cheese and four slices of bacon. The veggies are served off to the side, including lightly pickled slices of cucumber. The buns are moistened with “shhhh” sauce (Triniti’s secret concoction is a variant on comeback sauce). The skin-on, hand-cut french fries alongside are terrific, too. $15
4. Mockingbird Bistro, 1985 Welch
Mockingbird Bistro’s burger is stellar as is, although a foie gras-topped version is available for those who want to make a real experience out of it. (At $32, the foie gras version isn’t cheap, but it is decadent.) The secret of chef John Sheely’s rendition is a blend of chuck, brisket and short rib. It’s nestled within Slow Dough’s toasty onion bun and topped with bacon marmalade and gruyère. Fresh lettuce, tomato and onion are served to the side so the diner can apply as he or she sees fit. The experience isn’t complete without a side order of truffle frites. Land a real bargain on the foie-free burger at happy hour for only $11.
3. Southern Goods, 632 West 19th
The right number of meats in a good burger blend seems to be three, and that’s the case with the SG burger. Each meat has a purpose, and the combination of chuck, brisket and bacon results in a firm, moist, smoky patty. Two of these beauties reside on a salt-and-pepper bun from Kraftsmen Baking. The burger is served open-faced, with burgers covered in melted cheese slices on one side and lettuce, tomato slices, raw rings of red onion and bread-and-butter pickles on the other. Instead of the standard french fries or chips, on the side is potato salad laced with creamy rémoulade tinged with “comeback sauce,” a mix of mayonnaise, chile sauce and ketchup. We’d certainly come back for this burger. $14.
2. Hubbell & Hudson Bistro, 24 Waterway Avenue, #125, The Woodlands
Every element of Hubbell & Hudson’s burger has a stylish touch, from the bun toasted both on top and underneath to the oven-dried tomato slices. There’s a considerate nod to personal preference, too, as diners are served a trio of pickle slices ranging from dill to the slightly sweet bread-and-butter kind. The thick patty is 100 percent Hereford beef, and tender Bibb lettuce is a silkier selection than the norm.
This burger almost doesn’t need to also be topped with smoky slices of bacon and Vermont cheddar — but who’s complaining? Derek Ryan’s wine selection constitutes a multi-continent adventure, and the recommendations never fail. We loved the 2013 Cantina Tramin Lagrein Alto Adige. At $12, the burger is a ridiculous bargain at lunchtime. Choose one (or more) of truffle fries, salt and pepper fries or spiced fries alongside.
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1. Hunky Dory, 1801 North Shepherd
Much of whether a burger is going to be successful or not depends on the blend and grind of the meat. The secret of Hunky Dory’s burger lies here. The patty is a combination of chuck, brisket and tongue. The resulting moisture, beefy flavor and texture are simply phenomenal, and there’s not just one patty — there are two. Once that’s been achieved, there’s no need to complicate matters. Simple additions of American cheese, pickles, onion and a side of French fries are all the HD Burger needs. $14.